How to turn good intentions into real actions…and avoid procrastination
The vast majority of teachers in Australia have little hesitation in stating that their heavy workload is both challenging and stressful. Although the causes of chronic stress are certainly varied and specific to each person, the simple fact of having so much to do leaves many staff feeling overwhelmed, overtired and very frazzled.
It is of little surprise that the idea of taking time to manage stress seems like a contradiction and near impossibility. After all if life is stressful because it is too busy, how can taking on something else be helpful?
This is a good time to remind ourselves of the fact that stress is not about being too busy, it is about being too busy getting ahead. The stress and overload we experience when facing an overwhelming checklist is due to the fact that we are consumed with getting through the list. We are caught up in getting life out of the way, in getting everything done. This ‘getting ahead’ way of living stops us experiencing a sense of living here and now, in the present. We lose ‘time mastery’ and end up feeling that life is rushing past all too quickly.
The solution to get-ahead-stress is to find some regular time to embrace the reality of to-day. This equates to doing something you personally love, every week. It doesn’t have to be something purposeful, or even meaningful. Rather, it has to be something that you connect with, something that energizes you to the point where you are engaged it the process and not concerned about the outcome. In line with popular stress advice, this might mean a weekly trip to yoga, however, if the idea of downward facing dog leaves you cold, this is not the choice for you. There are infinite numbers of possibilities. You may love to play sport, or you may embrace a regular night out with close friends. If it makes you feel truly alive, if it is truly engaging, then it is the activity for you.
Spending two hours a week engaged with life today will not only make you feel good momentarily, it will make the whole of the rest of the week less stressful. Less stress makes everything more manageable and more pleasurable. This means that you truly will be taking time to make time.
Still, a busy life can make it hard to find those two important hours. We may well believe that gardening or a trip to the movies will be good for our wellbeing…but the idea of leaving marking undone or washing piled high fills us with panic. As such, great ideas for stress management often seem totally out of touch with our own reality. The big question becomes ‘how do we find time to take time? How do we ensure we make time to live our life?’
The key to long term success lies in both the way we plan our ‘time out’ goals and in our daily approach to goal pursuit.
A leap of faith is required.
An understanding of how to beat procrastination can also be extremely helpful…
- Identify something to do every week that is energizing and fulfilling for you.
If it has been a long time since you last took some quality time out, ask yourself what you used to enjoy doing? Also try asking yourself ‘is there anything that I have always wanted to do, but been too afraid to attempt?’ Often our habitual desire to focus on outcomes over process, leaves us scared to try something because of a fear of failure. We worry about writing a good story, instead of just writing. We are concerned about finishing the marathon rather than enjoying the journey.
- Identify any obstacles that may get in the way
Be honest with yourself. If you always have piles of marking to do on Monday nights then this may not be the best time to take up jazz dancing. If you love swimming but hate chorine in your eyes, buy yourself a pair of goggles before you dive into the pool. Try to see obstacles as challenges to be overcome rather than reasons not to proceed. Also, do make sure that your family and friends are aware of your plans. You may initially feel guilty at taking precious time away from home life. It is important to remind both your family and yourself of the many benefits of your being happier and healthier.
- Set a concrete, measurable time to take your time
Research has shown us that people are far more successful at maintaining their goals if they set clear and concrete times for goal pursuit. For example, if you want to paint at the weekend, try not to set the goal of aiming to paint ‘sometime’ before Monday morning. Set a specific time, such as Saturday afternoon between 2.00 and 4.00 pm, and know exactly when you are committed to your valuable time out.
- Aim for two hours every week
Two hours spent truly engaged with an activity gives your mind and your body enough time to change into a healthy and relaxed state. Having said this, half an hour well spent is better than two hours never claimed.
- Be consistent (not motivated)
Consistency is the key to establishing healthy habits, whether about exercise or writing that novel. People often make the mistake of focusing on motivation rather than consistency. For example, they assume that people who exercise regularly or write every day are motivated to do so. Not true, they have simply learnt to stick to the plan and ‘get on with it’. Inspiration, motivation and wellbeing come with task persistence, they rarely proceed it.
Dr Helen Street is an applied social psychologist with a passion for wellbeing in education. She presents seminars and workshops for schools. Helen is also chair of The Positive Schools Conferences (www.positiveschools.com.au)